American football: Jaguars bowl over the Broncos

Click to follow
The Independent Online
The Jacksonville Jaguars pulled off one of the most astonishing upsets in NFL history when they beat the Denver Broncos 30-27 to clinch a place in the AFC Championship game.

A combination of the joint-best regular season record and the Broncos' formidable form at the Mile High Stadium made them almost unbackable favourites going into the game, but it was the Jaguars, in only their second season and winners in Buffalo a week ago, who prevailed. Their place only a victory away from the Super Bowl is all the more unlikely given they only made the play-offs thanks to the short-range field goal missed by Atlanta's Morten Anderson in the final game of the regular season - which is a bit like basing your cup campaign on Alan Shearer missing a penalty.

The Broncos began well enough, scoring a couple of touchdowns in the first quarter, but missed both an extra-point kick and a two-point conversion to keep the lead to 12-0. In the second quarter they were made to pay for their profligacy with Mike Hollis kicking field goals from 46 and 42 yards and Natrone Means rushing for an eight-yard TD to give the visitors a 13-12 half-time advantage.

Two TD passes from the increasingly impressive Mark Brunell, first to Keenan McCardell and then to Jimmy Smith, plus another Hollis field goal, stretched the Jags' lead and with just under four minutes left they led 30-20. John Elway rallied his troops with a late scoring driving, but the Jaguars grabbed the onside kick and ran out the clock.

By the end Means had rushed for 140 yards, but he was quick to compliment those making the openings for him . "Our offensive line played great and opened the holes for me," Means said. "They left lanes wide open for me on some of those runs. We have a long way to go still, but I can see the Super Bowl at the end of the tunnel."

To do so they will need to get past the New England Patriots, who cruised into the AFC title game with a 28-3 victory over Pittsburgh at Foxboro Stadium. The Pats took control early, establishing a 21-0 half-time lead. The Steelers did score a field goal in the third quarter, but Curtis Martin's late TD run wrapped up the victory.

The Green Bay Packers are also through to a Championship game, the NFC variety, after beating San Francisco 35-21. Desmond Howard established the tempo in the first quarter, returning one punt 71 yards for a TD, and another 46 yards to set up another score. Steve Young, the 49ers quarterback, limped out of the game early in the first quarter, and with Elvis Grbac at the helm Jerry Rice was restricted to just five receptions.